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Hebden Bridge Brass Band
It is not absolutely clear when Hebden Bridge Brass Band was founded but in 1978 they held their centenary celebration. For many years it was believed that 1878 was the founding year, but an appeal to the local community for any information on the band's history a couple of years ago revealed that the band was in existence around 1850. A relation of a Mytholmroyd man (village near Hebden Bridge) had collected newspaper articles and we were able to borrow and photocopy his scrapbook. In it are articles on contest results going back to the 1850's.
In the early days of brass banding, members were made up from the workforce of the local mills who sponsored them and they, the mill owners, in return got relatively cheap advertising for the mill and products, particularly if the bands performed well and won prizes and recognition at local and national contests.
The Mortimers of Hebden Bridge
Fred Mortimer was born in Hebden Bridge on St Cecilia's Day (Nov 22nd) 1880, and his three sons, Rex, Alex, and Harry received their first musical training from their father. Harry Mortimer received his first cornet from Hebden Bridge Brass Band as the pre-war committee book reads:
"Master H. Mortimer is to be provided with a cornet on which to learn".
Fred had started his musical career as a cornet player in Hebden, working his way along the front row seats, and eventually becoming a 'playing' conductor, playing with the right hand and beating time with the left. During his tenure as bandmaster, Hebden Bridge Band enjoyed unrivalled contest success, including winning the British Open Contest in 1911 under the baton of William Halliwell.. They returned to Hebden Bridge to find the streets filled with crowds of well wishers wanting to share this great occasion with their band.
Honours and plaudits surrounded the family long after they had left the Calder Valley. Harry went on to become the most famous cornet and trumpet player of his generation, as well as a well-respected conductor, receiving an OBE and a CBE in the Queens Honours list for his contribution to music.
His father Fred was granted the freedom of his native town on Sunday 12th March 1944.
For this community band from the Pennine valleys, much has changed since its beginnings in the middle of the 19th century. However, they continue to serve the community and enjoy close links with their principal sponsors Hebden Royd Council.
Present day sees the band rehearsing at Cragg Vale, with a smart new bandroom on Thornber Business Park. Normal rehearsal days are Monday and Wednesday at 8.00pm.
The History Of Hebden Bridge Band
Although the Hebden Bridge Band celebrated its centenary in 1978, early records show that there was some kind of band in existence as early as the 1850s, although the band did not start to enter contests as an all brass group until 1870.
Not a lot is written about early banding activities in Hebden Bridge apart from a list of bandmasters for the band from 1861 for the next fifty years. The list starts with Mr Samuel Jenkins – he was succeeded by his son Mr Henry Jenkins, followed by Mr W. Heap, Mr J.W. Lawton and Mr F. Mortimer (who went on to conduct the Luton Red Cross Band and the Fodens Motor Works Band.) From what we can gather, the band also from time to time also obtained professional help from the top conductors of the day, for example Mr J. Gladney, Mr G.F. Burkenshaw and Mr W. Rimmer.
By the 1900s the Hebden Bridge Band was up amongst the top ten bands in the country, and regularly won prizes at the British Open Championships held at Belle Vue, Manchester. By this time Mr F. Mortimer was the bandmaster as well as playing solo cornet and his three sons, Rex, Alex, and Harry received their first musical training from their father. An entry in an old band committee book (which the band still possesses) reads; - "Master H. Mortimer is to be provided with a cornet on which to learn". Harry later went on to be a top cornet and trumpet player, conductor, and also worked for the B.B.C. He was rewarded with the O.B.E and the C.B.E.
A big turning point in the band's future was in 1910 when a new principal cornet player called Mr W.M.Ellison joined the band. He had previously played as assistant principal with the Haigh Band, the Pemberton Old Band and the Crooke Band. His first principal cornet position was with the Crossfield Soap Works Band and was lucky enough to have been taught by Mr W Rimmer, who was one time professional conductor of the band.
1911 saw the Hebden Bridge Band have its biggest contest victory ever, by becoming the 59th British Open Champions. The test piece was a selection from a Tchaikovsky Opera called Eugen Onegin arranged by Lieut. Charles Godfrey M.V.O. The band was conducted by a professional conductor, Mr William Halliwell.
The results for the contest were:
1st Hebden Bridge Band
2nd Fodens Motor Works Band
3rd Perfection Soap Works Band
4th Batley Old Band
5th Irwell Springs Band
6th Luton Red Cross Band
Mr Halliwell had a very good day, conducting four out of the six prize winners, including the first three. When Hebden Bridge Band returned home after this win, the streets of Hebden Bridge were filled with well-wishers wanting to share this great occasion with their band. The band had now established itself as one of the country's top bands and 1911 was probably the most memorable and productive year in the band's history. After the success at the British Open, unfortunately Hebden Bridge could only manage 11th place at the National Finals of the same year, held at the Crystal Palace. During the 1911 contesting season the band won a total of £102-10 shillings in prize money, which was spent on buying new instruments and uniforms.
The next few years saw the band not doing as well in contests, but was still regarded as one of the leading bands in the country. However, in 1922, the band, conducted by Mr William Ellison, won the Lastelles Cup which meant that the band had become the Champion band of Yorkshire. During the 1920s the band regularly beat the famous bands of the day, including Black Dyke Mills and Fodens Motor Works Bands.
In 1927 the band went to the Isle of Man to enter a contest for Class A bands. It won and came back with the 'Frances Day and Hunter Challenge Shield'. The contest was never held again and so the shield still hangs on the bandroom wall to this day. The years up to the Second World War saw the demise of the Hebden Bridge Band and by 1939 the band had folded.
After the war years late into 1945, Mr Sam Townend (the Principal Euphonium player from the band's most successful era) decided to try and reform the band with a group of boys and renamed the band the “Hebden Bridge Boys' Band”. Mr Townend and the band began to make steady progress and the Hebden Bridge Band began to rise up through the sections. In May 1962 we saw the band gain a 4th position at the Junior Shield Spring Brass Band Festival held at Belle Vue. Sadly in 1963 Mr Townend died, and the band probably lost its most faithful member, first as a player member then as a conductor.
The band continued winning prizes at contests, now under the baton of a young man called Mr Raymond Page. In 1966 the band won the 2nd Section at the Area Contest held at Bradford. Finally after all the hard work, the band was back in the Championship Section (there were still only four sections at this time). Unfortunately, however, it seemed that poaching season was on and, amongst others; the band lost three good corner men to the Black Dyke Mills Band. Hebden Bridge Band then held a special committee meeting and decided with this untimely blow, not to enter the Championship Section after all.
So into the 1970s and a period of decline with the band still competing in the 2nd section, now under the baton of Mr Norman Hudson, a church organist from Huddersfield, but the band did nothing under him and so in 1974 he resigned. He was replaced by a local man called Mr Alan Pollard who for many years was in the Royal Marines as a French horn player. Unfortunately, although he was a good player, he didn't really fit in as a conductor, and his stint with the band only lasted about six months. Once again the band was without a conductor.
As with many other brass bands, a playing member of the band was elected to conduct. This was an Eb Bass player called Mr Trevor Pidgeon, who had been with the band for a number of years on and off. Under his guidance, the band began to improve, with many members who had left rejoining. In the year 1976 the band appeared on television programme “The 60,70,80 Show” with presenter Mr Roy Hudd and special guest conductor Mr Harry Mortimer.
Unfortunately, due to work commitments, Trevor had to resign, so once again the band had no conductor.
After a few months of looking for a new conductor, the band decided on a woman to conduct (which was certainly a first for the band). Mrs Bessie Ackroyd was appointed, and at this time she was one of only four bandmistresses in the country. Bessie stayed with the band for about three years, including the Band's Centenary year 1978. To celebrate the centenary, the band held a concert at the Birchcliffe Centre in Hebden Bridge and was lucky enough to get Mr Harry Mortimer to conduct the whole concert. Philip McCann, principal cornet with Black Dyke at that time, also came and played four cornet solos with the band. The concert was a sell-out.
At the Area Contest in the same year the band finished in 6th position in the 2nd section – a wonderful achievement since most of its players were under 18 years of age.
A sad blow for the band came when, in 1990, Bessie was involved in a car crash and had to leave the band. This was a great shame as Bessie had done so much with this very young band.